Sunday, January 14, 2007

I haven't posted in awhile, so I thought it might be time for an update.

I just re-read my last entry, and it was better than I remembered. :) I can't say things have changed much in what I covered.

I realized a few weeks ago that I was actually getting a little flat in my spirituality, which hasn't happened to me since my de-conversion from being a "True Believing Mormon" began a couple of years ago. I trace it to a couple of things. I mentioned last time that I have been reading a lot of "liberal" stuff. My latest books are "Mormon Origins: Hierarchy of Power", which shows how the control structures of the LDS church evolved and the "revelations" backdated to make it look like it had always been that way. His claims are pretty easy to verify, because you can go online and find copies of the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and see the changes. Basically most of the story we tell nowadays evolved through the mid-1830s, with accompanying changes to Joseph Smith's revelations.

The other book I was reading was "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Ehrman, which describes some of the changes to the New Testament over its early history. Some were copying mistakes, and others appear to be intentional changes in order to grind some ideological ax or another. Most are minor changes. Some are not.

After all this I found myself wondering just who I could trust anymore and what from the scriptures could really be believed. I still had my core belief in God, but I was starting to wander just a little bit on just who Jesus was and just what the point of this whole thing was.

I honestly don't see Joseph Smith and many of the early Christian apostles as being that different in the nature of their writings. Generally I think they were recording what they thought God was telling them, and their stories don't necessarily always agree in detail and message. I think there's some level of inspiration in there, but not to the degree we say sometimes. With the documented copying changes, the difference in historical details, the difference in basic theology, I can hardly consider the scriptures inerrant in any degree. I think they primarily witness what the authors thought God was telling them, and our challenge is to figure out what God is trying to tell us through these divergent sources.

Given all that I just found more meaning and joy in motorcycle riding than in studying all this and doing all the writing I had been doing. Maybe it was all just a mysterious crap shoot anyway. I was tired of being blown this way and that in my faith. I'm tired of being the sheep for every self-appointed sheep herder out there who wants to tell me what to believe and what to do. The world is full of Eveready energizer bunnies wanting me to do my home teaching, give blood, rescue the poor, go fight and die in Iraq, buy their product, work my tail off to produce some product they can sell, and about a million other things. Everybody wants me to sign up for their cause these days, join their church, believe their version of the Christian story, spend money on their consumer product, and the list goes on. I'm tired of being herded by people like a sheep. I'm tired of junk mail and TV advertising. If I'm in any meeting with a person up in front with any other message than what they can unselfishly do for me, I've had enough of it.

All I really want to do these days is ride. Just ride. Engage in the real world, in small towns and farms and people living in the real world and not in a fantasy land they want me to believe is real so I'll invest my time and blood and treasure in it.

Well, you can tell I was pretty dead flat this week.

I decided to do something a little different in my morning scripture study routine, because I was beyond flat and into depressed. I ditched my study of the Doctrine and Covenants, LDS Church magazines, and LDS conference talks for a few days and just immersed myself in a parallel bible where I could compare things and see any translation differences, copying differences, whatever. I ran across something really startling to me:

Hebrews 10:10-24

The interesting thing is that this doesn't appear to be a disputed passage. It's pretty consistent across all translations. The writer of Hebrews is unknown, but the book can be dated to before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, just because the author doesn't mention it. The book is referred to by several early Christian writers. What all this says to me is really more the consensus of the early church than God appeared to the author and said, "write this".

I learned, or rather was reminded, of a couple of things. First, although Ehrman points out many things that were changed, there are a lot of core things in the New Testament that no evidence exists have been changed substantially. Whether what the author says is actually true or not is a matter of faith, but it seems to have been reliably transmitted, anyway, and generally accepted by the community as being doctrine. Otherwise it wouldn't have made it into the New Testament.

What it said was illuminating to me also.

I realized I had been immersing myself too much in LDS writings, which always have you doubting your worthiness and your relationship with God. God loves you based on how exactly you keep the commandments, and all these blessings are out there for those that do. Inspiration, guidance, a celestial family, etc.. The implication I think many people get is that, since these promises are so certain, if you're not feeling and receiving these things you must not be doing it right, and you need to clean yourself up more. You're always just one mouse click and one Victoria's Secret ad away from blowing it. The gospel is not about God's love for mankind, it's a massive filtering-out process, a game of "Survivor". We're tried and tested in this life to see who is worthy of godhood and who will eternally be a washroom attendant, serving those that get a higher score and make the final round in the quiz bowl of life. Plus I mentally fill in so much of the backstory about the organization's relentless push to reinforce its own authority and to bolster its legitimacy by sanitizing its founding history. It's just draining.

Anyway, verse 18 reminded me that Christ has paid the price for these sins I can't seem to get away from, once and for all. I think verse 22 was the real motivator. Drawing near to God with full assurance of faith. How often are we ever inspired to have full assurance of faith in the LDS church? It's always the refiners fire with angels, silent notes taking. Taking the deliberate path into sin is pretty damaging, but in absence of that I have that full assurance of faith and the hope of a fair deal, in this life and the life to come. God loved me enough to send his Son, and is not just waiting for me to screw up so he can give all my blessings to someone more perfect. At least that's what those who knew Jesus personally and those who received their witness seemed to think. Maybe that's what I think, too. It's at least one basic truth to hold onto.

Anyway, I've been studying in Hebrews and 1 John this week, and life seems a little better. The love of God seems more tangible to me than it did before and more accessible. There are promises I think I can trust a little more than I did before. If you weren't convinced before, you probably aren't now, but that's my witness, anyway.


Anonymous said...

It always makes me sad when people interpret and experience the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its implementation in the way you describe.

Our Heavenly Father has unlimited love for us and desires for us everything that He has. There are no gotcha's. And there is no sifting and sorting except insofar as we choose to do it to ourselves.

What we are expected to do is the best we can, and a little better every day. If we are on the right path and moving in the right direction to the best of our ability, then by grace we are made perfect through the atonement of our Savior --- today and each day.

ChristFollower said...

I couldn't agree more. In my experience, though, we don't teach this consistently in the LDS church, not even in General Conference. To the extent we focus on "raising the bar" and temple worthiness based on personal righteousness, rather than grace and forgiveness and accepting people's best efforts based on what they know, we are creating Prozac moments for most people.

You mention perfection through the atonement, but just yesterday our sacrament speakers focused mostly on salvation through priesthood ordinances, which again are only available to the worthy.

I think what you describe can certainly be found in the church, but sometimes it's too hard to sift through the other messages to find it.

I'm happy to discuss this further if you want to post a real id or e-mail address.

ChristFollower said...

One other comment is that you use the word "interpret", which puts the burden on me for not understanding what is taught. IMHO I and many others are correctly interpreting what the church generally teaches, which is an excessive focus on personal righteousness issues. So I don't think the problem is that the church is true and I don't get it and am somehow not interpreting it correctly. It's the message the church is sending, which is inconsistent with the Jesus I know through the New Testament.

Anonymous said...

In House group the other day, one of the ladies mentioned a story that she was told as a child. She thought it was cute and simple and helped her understand. Well, it was cute and simple, but was way off base in its theology. It was the idea that Christianity is like climbing a mountain where we are trying to get to the top. If we mis-step and sin then we land on a big exciting slide and slide down to the bottom of the mountain and have to start climbing all over again. It took me a little while to gather my thoughts and figure out what it was that bothered me about that cute story. I eventually said something sort of like what your other anonymous post said; but I don't think that I said it as well. I think this is fairly related to your post. Its that works vs faith salvation issue again. It is so easy to get into works salvation. But that's the path the Phariseas were on. Many denominations/congregations are on that path too much as well.

Switching now to a different idea... Years ago, in my mother-in-law's church, I heard a very wonderful sermon given by a young woman just getting ready to go off to seminary at a liberal mainline protestant seminary. I warned her that by the time they got done "teaching" her at the seminary that she would no longer believe the things that she had just said in her sermon. These teachers are very smart professors who have made a living out of questioning everything to the point of no longer believing anything. Bart Ehrman falls into that category of professor. I imagine that if we looked hard enough we could find other noted scholars who look at the same evidence and come to an entirely different set of conclusions about the validity of scriptures. But what is the point. It is a faith issue anyway.

We sort of had this conversation a year or two ago and I wrote up a couple of pager on how I viewed it at the time. I don't recall if I ever sent it to you or not. When I get a chance, I'll see if I can find it on my hard drive and see if I still agree with me. Then maybe I'll drop it out to you.


ChristFollower said...

The problem with the child's story is the idea that somehow we can get to the top of the mountain without sinning, and that living a life without sin is what somehow gets us there. Sometimes I think the phrase "keeping the commandments" is ambiguous. Over the last couple of days I reread 1 - 3 John, and he talks a lot about the importance of keeping the commandments.

In the LDS church we hear that phrase and project personal righteousness issues, mostly, and obedience to church leaders.

John says somewhere in 2 John that "keeping the commandments" equates to believing in Christ and loving one another.

I think the idea of the "big slide" factors out grace.

Onto your comment about "liberal seminaries", there are facts and there are interpretations. I find Ehrman's facts to be pretty compelling, as well as what Marcus Borg has to say. That doesn't mean I always have to agree with their interpretations of those facts.

Ehrman's faith collapsed because the oldest manuscripts we have are 200 years after the birth of Christ, and we can easily document thousands of changes in the copying process, implying thousands we don't know about. We don't have the original words.

I see it the other way. Although much was obviously changed, much wasn't, and I think the general themes are trustworthy, even if scribes fudged a little to make some doctrinal points.

So, Ehrman's "facts" are enough to prove for me the general trustworthiness of the bible, while at the same time convincing me of the human influence in it that rules out the inerrancy of particular verses taken out of context. For example specific statements about the role of women in church, etc.. The critical part for me is Paul's testimony of the risen Lord, rather than his opinions on homosexuals and how women should wear their hair, which have to be considered in their cultural context.

Anonymous said...

I think it's always easy to spot an LDS response to someone's faith issue when it puts the blame squarely on the individual, not on any other possible fact or circumstance. I call it the Gospel of Ultimate Blame. I feel sad when LDS people's replies to others implicates their own egotism rather than acknowleging the individual involved. (I got it, why can't you?) The idea of "truth" implies that there is a reality to be seen, and if you can't get it (like the first poster here has been so blessed by God to have "gotten it"), you're warped, insincere, holding a grudge, sinful, lazy, indifferent, missing the mark, led by satan, or just not one of the chosen few that are given the gift from God to understand. In essence, one website's comment on those who doubt the "validity" of the Mormon church's claim to "one stop shopping truth", is this particular out "remember, some people just won't have that gift from God to know (quoting gifts from God in D&C 121), just to rely on other people's testimony." What a fabulous "out". Well, if you don't get it, you just might never will, cause God won't give it to you. Too bad, guess you'll have to wait until the next life, then. Believe us elect few in the meantime. What a crock of horse manure!

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